Top professor says concerns of a ‘significant flu epidemic’ this winter are overstated – but warns we could see a major outbreak in Australia next year
- Some health experts are warning of a influenza epidemic heading for NSW
- The number of influenza cases tripled in April from 341 in March to 1237 cases
- This rise has largely been attributed to vaccine fatigue and opening of borders
- Professor Peter Collignon says an epidemic is unlikely but has concerns for 2023
A top professor says concerns about a nightmare flu season are overstated, despite influenza cases tripling in NSW between March and April and another expert warning of a flu epidemic this winter.
At least 1237 influenza cases were reported in April in NSW, which is more than triple March’s figure of 341 infections.
Professor Ian Barr, deputy director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, told the Sydney Morning Herald cases will dramatically rise in the coming weeks.
‘The way things are heading, we will have a significant epidemic outbreak, but whether that will peak in August, or slightly later in September, is unclear,’ Barr said.
He warns there will be a spike in flu cases over the coming months as less Australians take up their flu shots due to vaccine fatigue from the pandemic.
‘While people might be sick of vaccination – and there is definitely less of an appetite for vaccines after COVID-19 – there needs to be an awareness flu is back and vaccination is the best tool to protect against illness.’
However, infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon told Daily Mail Australia he believes the prediction of a massive influenza epidemic in the coming months has been wildly exaggerated.
He says a potential epidemic would be more likely to break out next year when overseas travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.
‘My feeling is we will have a moderate amount of influenza this winter. I’d be more worried about 2023 when we get to normal movements of people.’
‘It’ll take another year to get back to those normal levels of movements.’
Professor Collignon says the country has seen far worse flu seasons, citing the 2017 flu epidemic where 9330 NSW residents alone were admitted to hospital over the course of the year and 1181 Australians across the nation died from the virus.
Some experts have warned of a spike in flu cases over the coming months as less Australians take up their flu shots due to vaccine fatigue. Another reason for the spike in infections is the reopening of international borders. (Pictured: Queues of people at Sydney domestic airport)
Infectious diseases expert Peter Collignon (pictured) told Daily Mail Australia he was not surprised by the recent spike in flu cases but he downplayed the likelihood of a flu epidemic in 2022
Flu vaccine uptake in NSW had dropped significantly in comparison to the previous two years.
In April 2020, almost 1.5million NSW residents had their flu shots.
This fell to 857,000 in 2021 over the course of the same month and to just 612,000 in April 2022.
Many experts have attributed this to vaccine fatigue following the pandemic where most Australians took up two doses of a Covid vaccine and subsequent booster shots for protection against Covid.
Not a single influenza death was recorded in Australia in 2021, and only 36 were noted in 2020.
It’s a big difference from previous flu seasons where 902 deaths were reported in 2019 and 1181 in 2017.
Again, experts have said these lower figures is was due to Covid restrictions isolating the community for large periods of time and stringent Covid-safe measures.
Jennifer Lang, chair of the Actuaries Institute’s working group on Covid, told the Guardian in 2021: ‘It’s the fact that we’ve taken steps to avoid infection from Covid, which has helped us to avoid being affected by a whole lot of other respiratory diseases.’
‘It’s been all of the different measures that people are taking to avoid mixing which has reduced the level of flu in circulation worldwide.’